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Diary

I marry my ‘toyboy’ and go climbing in high heels

Also in Prue Leith’s Diary: joining one of Edinburgh’s great dynasties and ordering my own tartan

15 October 2016

9:00 AM

15 October 2016

9:00 AM

To Edinburgh to get married, but first my toyboy groom John Playfair (he’s a mere 69) shows me the city of his birth, which is peppered with his kinsman William Playfair’s neoclassical buildings. Outside the Chambers Museum there is a new, magnificent statue of him by Stoddard. We climb Calton Hill to admire the monument to another Playfair, this time the mathematician and astronomer John, and also his observatory, both built by W.H. Playfair. I’m now a bit daunted at joining the Playfair clan. Next day at sunset we drive as high as we can along Salisbury Crags and up Arthur’s Seat. It seems feeble not to climb the last bit. So up we go, me in high heels. It’s easier uphill than you’d think as the heels keep your feet horizontal but coming down they exaggerate the pitch and it’s impossible. I descend in socks.

The day of our nuptials is, like the whole week, sunny and clear. At our age getting married again is exciting, wonderful and slightly embarrassing. John is persuaded into his kilt, something he has resolutely refused to wear south of the border during our five years together. He reminds me of the Mugabe story: the cunning despot, on being welcomed to some laird’s estate by a Highland piper, is said to have remarked: ‘If I’m not mistaken, that man is blowing into a bag made of cowhide, he has a bearskin on his head decorated with ostrich feathers, a dagger in his sock, a badger’s head and horsehair tassels between his legs, and he’s wearing a skirt. And you call us uncivilised?’ The pre wedding lunch with our witnesses, Luce and Alan Macmillan, is in Ondine’s, opposite the magnificent registry office in Lothian Chambers. I have oysters then treacle tart. The actual wedding is short and sweet and we repair to the New Club (which makes the Athenaeum look revolutionary) with astonishing views over the city. We have tea and fizz and Luce produces a little lemon drizzle cake with a bride and groom on top. She’d bought the Lego figures on eBay and customised them: my hair with her nail varnish and John’s with Alan’s white radiator paint.


Next day it’s announced that I am to be the next chancellor of Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh and I feel a buzz of proud satisfaction. I have always been both in awe of academics (my qualifications amount to a pony club badge and the 25 yards swimming certificate) and angered by their blithe disregard of the real world. Art for art’s sake is all very well until you want to earn a living, when the importance of marketing, budgeting and cashflow loom large. QMU is unashamed of its famous past as the Atholl Crescent cookery school and its Masters in Gastronomy considers that food in all its forms (economy, sustainability, culture, history, health, science, gastronomy) is worthy of academic study and practical tuition. I was particularly impressed by its links with industry. Scientists are working with QMU academics and students on a new process for long life milk and orange juice that is indistinguishable from the fresh stuff. I have pretty mean tastebuds and I couldn’t tell the difference.

Then we are off for our mini honeymoon: five days on Belmond’s Royal Scotsman. We viewed this with some trepidation, having recently been on a cruise that my beloved described as a cross between a floating old age home and a golf club you wouldn’t want to join. This was grossly unfair. It’s true there was a hospital (and probably a morgue) on board, but we should be glad of that. The first night I looked smugly at my dinner companions, judging them a lot older than us, only to find I was the oldest person at the table. But we ended up loving it. The lecturers were erudite and interesting and the ease of it all was beguiling. Tying up at islands all over the Med, walking down the gangplank straight into Portoferraio on Elba or Ajaccio, Cagliari, Palermo, Lipari, Capri, was bliss. Not having to worry about luggage or taxis and to walk home when we’d had enough culture and wanted a siesta are very strong arguments for cruising. John thought the train might be full of Americans kitted out in highland dress with white socks (a hanging offence according to him) and singing ‘Roamin’ in the Gloamin’ ’. But our fellow travellers are delightful. They appreciate the charm of the staff, the oldy worldy carriages, the far too much good food and the awesome austerity of Scottish castles.

And I’m with them, jaw dropping and blood thrilling to the skirl of the pipes. (I don’t hold with the definition of a Scottish gentleman as a man who can play the pipes, but doesn’t.) My Scots ancestry and the Playfair connection are too much for me and I order a kilt (a Leith tartan no less) from Messrs Kinloch Anderson of Edinburgh. Och aye, it’s bin a grand week.

Prue Leith is a writer and chef. Her seventh novel, The Prodigal Daughter, is just out.


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